Summer 2007
Summer 2007

Vascular Disease
It Can Happen in Almost Any Part of the Body

Did you or someone you know ever use the terms "heart attack" and "stroke" interchangeably? In fact, they are not the same. But they do have a lot in common. This is because the same process that causes heart attacks can also affect the brain and other parts of the body such as the kidneys, arms and legs.

The process consists of blockages in arteries that carry fresh blood to the brain, heart or other muscle. When a vessel is blocked, blood supply is hindered and no oxygen and nutrients can reach that part of the body. Lack of blood flow for long periods of time causes pain (in most cases) and eventual cell death.

Two processes that can contribute to blocked arteries anywhere in the body are atherothrombosis and atherosclerosis. (A little Greek lesson here: Athero=porridge; thrombus=clot; osis=much, while sclero=hard. We thus end up with too many porridge-like clots, or too much hard porridge in our arteries!) Bottom line, the clots block the arteries. If you have atherothrombosis or atherosclerosis, you are said to have vascular disease.

Vascular disease in the arteries that lead to the brain can cause a stroke. In the arteries that lead to the heart, it can cause angina pain or a heart attack. In the arteries that lead to the kidneys it can cause high blood pressure and kidney failure. In the peripheral vessels (arms and legs) it can cause pain or discomfort when you walk (claudication) and severe reductions in blood flow that may lead to gangrene or necrosis (tissue death). Understanding that vascular disease can happen in all vessels in the body is an important step toward helping prevent such occurrences.

Reduce Your Risk Factors...
Don’t Take Chances with Your Health!

There are some important things you can do to reduce your risk of vascular disease. Risk factors include type I or type II diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, lack of exercise and obesity.

Diabetes...Control It for Life
Diabetes most often appears in middle age and among overweight people. But it’s becoming an increasing problem in children and adolescents. It affects many more women than men after age 60. Many people with diabetes also have high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol. This increases their risk even more.

If you have diabetes, it’s critical to have regular medical check-ups. Work closely with your healthcare provider to manage your diabetes and reduce or eliminate any other risk factors. If you have a family history of diabetes, ask your healthcare provider for a fasting blood sugar test.

What your numbers should be:

  • Fasting blood sugar: less than 100
  • Hemoglobin (A1c): less than seven percent

High Blood Cholesterol...Is Your Number Up?
Cholesterol is a soft, fat-like substance found in your blood and in all your body’s cells. A high cholesterol level in your blood can build up into artery-blocking plaque that can prevent blood flow to your heart, brain, kidneys, or legs. Find out what your cholesterol levels are, so you can lower them if you need to.

If you need to lower your LDL (the "bad" cholesterol), work with your doctor to create a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and an exercise plan. If you’re overweight, work with your doctor to create a diet and exercise plan to help you lose the extra pounds. Your doctor may also provide medication. Even if you need to take cholesterol-lowering drugs, a healthy diet and exercise are still important.

What your numbers should be:

  • Total cholesterol: less than 200
  • HDL-C (good cholesterol): more than 50 for women; more than 40 for men
  • LDL cholesterol: less than 100 is considered optimal. Less than 130 is OK if you have no other risk factors. People with diabetes or vascular disease should aim for an LDL level of about 70.

High Blood Pressure...the Silent Killer
High blood pressure (or hypertension) makes the heart work harder than normal. This raises the risk of heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, eye damage, congestive heart failure and atherosclerosis.

  • Women have an increased risk of developing high blood pressure. This is especially true for women who are 20 pounds or more over a healthy weight, have a family history of high blood pressure or have reached the age of menopause.
  • Work with your physician to lower your blood pressure, and follow his or her instructions even if you feel physically fine.

What your numbers should be:
Blood pressure of less than 130/80. Lower, if you have diabetes.

Smoking... Clear the Air!
SMOKING IS THE SINGLE MOST PREVENTABLE CAUSE OF DEATH IN THE UNITED STATES. If you smoke cigarettes (or cigars), you have a higher risk of illness and death from heart attack, stroke and other diseases. These include lung, mouth and throat cancers; chronic lung diseases and infections; and congestive heart failure. If you smoke, quit!

Join a program such as Quit Smart&tm;, Bridgeport Hospital’s smoking cessation program, which has a success rate equal to or better than that of other methods.

What your numbers should be:
Tobacco use: None. Repeat, NEVER!

Physical Inactivity...Just Move!
If you’re physically inactive - a "couch potato" - you’re much more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke. Regular, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity can help control blood cholesterol, diabetes and obesity. It can also help lower blood pressure.

  • For most healthy people, the American Heart Association recommends a minimum of 30 minutes of physical activity on most or all days of the week.
  • You don’t have to be an athlete to lower your risk! Moderate activities such as walking, gardening, housework or dancing for at least 30 minutes on most days can help your heart. The time may be broken into shorter periods.

What your numbers should be:
30 minutes of exercise per day.

Obesity or Overweight... Lighten Up
If you have too much body fat - especially if a lot of it is in your waist area—you’re at higher risk for health problems. These include high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, high triglycerides, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Women with excess body fat are at higher risk of heart disease - even if they don’t have other risk factors.

  • Try to reach a healthy weight - and stay there.
  • Even modest weight loss (five to 10 percent of body weight) can help lower your heart disease risk!
  • Beware of fad diets, prog